A recent article by The Athletic’s Vic Tafur pointed out that five of the nine players the Las Vegas Raiders selected in the 2023 NFL Draft participated in this year’s Senior Bowl. It’s not hard to find the linkage between the All-Star game and the Silver and Black as Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham served as the National Team’s head coach back in February.
“It gives us a head start on the whole process,” Graham told Tafur in an interview after the draft. “We could talk to players throughout the week, and we could see guys in real time respond to coaching. There was a lot of positive young energy. It was a fun week.”
It was the “behind-the-scenes” insight that the event provides NFL evaluators that can’t be seen on film or can be embellished in an interview which led to Las Vegas spending over half of its draft capital on Senior Bowl participants as Graham points out. General manager Dave Ziegler reinforced the coach’s comments during one of his post-draft press conferences:
“It’s another kind of detailed exposure that you often don’t usually get if you don’t have a coach involved,” Zielger said. “...Just being able to really see how guys learn, really get to see how guys operate day-to-day in meeting rooms, at practice, interaction with their teammates. Those are all things that we looked at, all things that we got feedback on.
“It wasn’t just about the football performance. It was about how they treated each other, how they interacted, what their commitment was, and all those different types of things, different positions that they could play. And so, it was a really valuable tool for us, and something that we utilized and helped us in the decision-making process here over the weekend.”
Byron Young, the first Senior Bowler who the Raiders drafted a couple of weeks ago, was one of the players who benefitted from working with Las Vegas’ coaching staff down in Mobile. He got a first-hand experience working with one of the team’s defensive line coaches, Matt Edwards, as they started to form a relationship during the event.
“It was great. I loved Coach Edwards when we were at the Senior Bowl,” said the former Alabama defensive tackle. “He seemed like a coach who obviously cared about his players. He seemed like a coach who really knew what he was doing and who wanted the best for his players. And I mean, that’s really what I want to be around.
“I think he is really contributing to winning up there and that’s something I really want to be around. I think that the whole Raiders team is just going in a positive direction.”
Young wasn’t the only draftee to form an immediate connection with someone from the Raiders’ coaching staff during the week of practice at the All-Star game, either. Graham made a strong impression on one of the team’s fourth-round picks, Jakorian Bennett.
“Oh, with coach Graham, it was awesome,” Bennett said of his time working with the Raiders defensive coordinator. “He was actually my head coach at the Senior Bowl. He’s a great coach. He brought a lot of energy and he just let us be us, and we just kind of embraced what he was saying knowing that he’s coached at a high level for a long time. So, yeah, I just kind of want to go out there and just be a dog, be the best version of myself and really just showcase my skills.
“He was really just always telling us to trust our technique. Just playing with feet first and being technically sound. And so just kind of hearing that from him, especially a high-level coach like that, I made sure that I honed in on those little details to really just kind of help execute my game. But he was definitely right there when we were doing individual drills, doing one-on-ones. He would always be watching us and just kind of giving little pointers, for sure.”
From the sounds of it, Las Vegas had a bit of a leg up on the rest of the competition when it came to evaluating some of this year’s top draft prospects by having two coaches present at the Senior Bowl. Hopefully, the familiarity between the coaches and players will help the rookies hit the ground running when training camp rolls around.